LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — A federal judge in Ohio has blocked the U.S. Air Force from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccination mandate on service members who have requested a religious exemption.
The Thursday order, which applies nationwide to Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units, as well, only pertained to service members who have been denied an exemption on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief, or who have not received a ruling on an exemption.
The Air Force provided statistics showing that 97% of the nation’s nearly 500,000 active duty, reserve and Guard members have complied with the mandate, with 1,441 exemptions being granted for medical and religious reasons.
As of Monday, 10,488 “religious accommodation” requests had either been denied or were on appeal.
The Air Force said that 834 service members had been “administratively separated” due to noncompliance with the mandate.
A group of Air Force service members had sued to block the vaccine mandate, which was scheduled to go into effect Thursday.
A group of service members at Offutt Air Force Base made similar arguments in a lawsuit they filed, contending that such a requirement “flagrantly violates” their religious freedom. (A mandate for the Army went into effect Nov. 30.)
The Air Force, meanwhile, has maintained that such a vaccination, and others required of members of the military, are necessary to prevent the spread of disease and ensure that members are combat ready.
The Ohio lawsuit maintained that the Air Force had received only about 1% of the religious accommodation requests.
In Nebraska, an Air National Guard spokesman recently said that 93.5% of the state’s 1,000 Air Guard members had obtained the required vaccination, with the remaining 6.5% requesting either a religious or a medical exemption.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew McFarland of the Southern District of Ohio is valid for 14 days, allowing him to consider continuing a preliminary injunction prior to a trial on the lawsuit.
Gov. Pete Ricketts joined some Republican governors who opposed the mandate. Ricketts said recently that while he appreciated getting the vaccine, a person’s individual choice in refusing it should be respected.
Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: email@example.com. Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.